tv [untitled] March 25, 2013 6:00am-6:30am PDT
15 years later, water quality is on the agenda of every city council person in that local city, and that's completely a result of activists forcing the issue, surfrider and other local groups, saying, "hey, these water quality issues are real and you need to address them." and only until the public sort of creates that will will the politicians respond. narrator: while some cities deal with infrastructure issues, others have concerns about the sustainability of water supplies. allbee: it's not just about the sustainability of the assets, it's about the sustainability of our water resources. parts of this country that thought of themselves as water rich 20, 30 years ago, now are discovering that they really are not water rich, they have source supply issues, they have serious questions about how they're going to accommodate additional growth in their communities. melosi: if we can find alternatives, we can preserve a water supply. conservation of water is a way of generating more water.
allbee: we think that a household can actually reduce its water usage by about 30%. and that's hugely important in terms of the amount of infrastructure that community's going to require. narrator: las vegas is one of the fast-growing areas in the country. it's a relatively new city under constant construction. but because it's in the arid mojave desert, the challenge of las vegas is supply. woman: all the growth and everything that's occurred in southern nevada has been with colorado river water. without it, the west as you know it today couldn't exist. narrator: to sustain their growing community with its limited supply, las vegas learned to be extremely efficient. mulroy: this is a desert, and it has its own beauty,
but you have to get beyond what you're used to. as long as people recognize they're moving to the desert and give up this notion that they have to bring eastern vegetation with them and make the necessary adaptations in their own life, desert communities can continue to live. man: the biggest water user in the desert is turf. turf uses a lot of irrigation and uses spray irrigation, so what we've done here is use artificial turf. you're never going to be able to achieve the look of back east or the look of, say, california, with subtropical plants, but our landscapes are still lush and use about 30% of what the subtropical landscape with turf would use. las vegas has adopted a drought tolerant ordinance. we're using less water today
than we used five years ago, despite over 300,000 new residents. i think it's a pretty amazing example as to how a town can really turn on a dime if there's the political will and if the public gets behind it. narrator: even the casinos and resorts have adapted to efficient water use. mulroy: the las vegas strip uses only 3% of all the water that we deliver. and when you think about it, it's the largest economic driver in the state, the largest employer, bar none. they knew they had to go the extra mile. and they've embraced conservation. and it's almost beyond belief that they're right now in the process of building another 15,000 rooms. southern nevada recycles 100% of its wastewater. so for every gallon we put back in the colorado, we can take an additional gallon out, or we send it to reuse facilities.
and we deliver it to golf courses and parks and other outside applications. man: water's about a third of our budget. that's a lot of money. the lake right over here, 24 hours ago that was in somebody's house. it's been through a treatment plant. and now it's in our lake and we're watering with it. narrator: these reuse and conservation techniques enable las vegas to exist in the desert. another important form of conservation is preventing leaks. man: every drop counts. all water systems have what they call an efficiency rating. so if you were to measure the water that goes into your system and compare it to the water that goes out, how much is unaccounted for? most states have a goal of 10%. ours is at only 5.5% right now.
and we have plans to lower that to 4%. man: we actually have our entire distribution system mapped out in a computerized or electronic format. and we can locate our pipes, we can locate our valves, we can locate water meters that are out there. we've got small units installed in the distribution system. and they actually listen for leaks. we can schedule the repair, minimize its impacts to the surrounding community, and it minimizes cost, because obviously, if you've got a leak that's been leaking for sometime, you're going to see a lot of undermining of the roadways, potential property damage. fisher: all the sensors in the field come into this location. these two operators behind me operate the entire water system, 24/7. so we can see all of our reservoirs, their elevations, whether they're going up or down, how much water we're getting from our two treatment plants.
we try to move it very quickly through the system and serve it to our customers in the most economic and efficient manner. narrator: las vegas serves as an example for cities across the country, whether they have a limited supply or not. and many utilities can identify with the struggles that come with maintaining underground assets to support a growing population. one of the most common issues that municipalities share is water loss. melosi: because it's not a catastrophic issue, we don't think much about it. but there is a 10%, 20%, 30% water loss or leakage in some systems. allbee: already treated water that you've invested money in, you're losing before you actually delivered it. narrator: so many utilities are employing the business strategy of asset management. it's a paradigm shift in the approach of attaining a sustainable water infrastructure.
man: it's not construction of new pipelines. we are talking about maintaining, sustaining the infrastructure we have. you've got to know what you have, where it is, what condition it's in, and how long you can expect it to last. melosi: we have very little choice because we've invested in a system that cannot be readily changed. we don't leave a lot of flexibility to dig that all up and replace it with something else. sinha: so we have to also teach our students, the workforce, that there is a new science -- repair, renewal, and rehabilitation. that's different from building something new. you cannot fix each and every crack in the city. it's like each city, you're talking about 3,000, 5,000 miles of pipe. so you have to prioritize where they can go and fix the system. narrator: each city faces unique situations,
so they must determine the asset management approach that best addresses these challenges. inspections can be done with various technologies, often by a robot... or personally by a technician on a bicycle. sensors detect breaks, cracks, and weaknesses in the pipe. man: we have roots at this cap lateral at 79. narrator: tree roots can grow into the pipe, splitting it apart. man: more light roots at 69. narrator: sometimes they may even find fully collapsed sections. after gathering the data, utilities can assess the need for rehabilitation. sinha: you have to choose the rehabilitation technique so that the life of the pipe can be extended 30 years, 40 years, 50 years. allbee: any asset has an optimal investment strategy. if you're making investments in that asset too early, or too late, you're wasting money.
it costs about three times as much to fix a system once it's failed. so it's all about finding that right point where the dollars should flow toward that asset. narrator: but finding the funds to evaluate and rebuild these assets is an ongoing struggle. johnson: there is a gap between what's being spent by municipalities and water supply systems and what needs to be spent. and somehow that has to be made up. so there's a good bit of lobbying through congress to get funding. oberstar: we need to restore the construction grant program. we need to invest substantially more, on the federal government side, as an inducement to states and local governments to make the investments they need to make. man: but the federal role is going to continue to be diminished because of so many competing demands.
so the expectation that the federal government will step in and infuse a lot of capital into water infrastructure, i think, is doubtful. and whether they should or not, i think, will continue to be debated. narrator: where money continues to be elusive, some cities and towns are turning their assets over to private companies, hoping the private sector can find the solutions they cannot. man: in the u.s., roughly 90% of all water and wastewater systems are still publicly owned and publicly managed. the remaining 10% are managed by privately held companies. man: the private sector has learned to become very efficient, and frequently a municipality can save themselves a significant amount of money by bringing in a private company. this is not true in all cases. there are some exceptionally well-run municipalities, but they do have to deal with a city government system
that is very hard to work within. paolicelli: there's several advantages to municipalities. they don't have to make a profit, so they're generally just trying to be break-even. and because of the importance of water, a lot of communities would be reluctant to give up control, but it is being looked at, especially on some of these troubled systems. cook: much of the business is in the mid-sized to smaller communities who have even fewer resources than the large cities, less expertise. if you take options off the table, it will be, well, what we've done for the last 40 years, and right now we have some real challenges. so any good manager is going to want to have a maximum number of options. allbee: you've got to have a serious conversation with your constituency about what it costs to deliver the service that you're required to deliver and to deliver the service that they want. paolicelli: and i think, ultimately, the responsibility is going to be down to the user of this commodity.
it costs money to operate these systems. there's a need to continually invest in these systems. there's going to be new regulations. it's all going to cost money. allbee: for all practical purposes, people are going to have to pay about twice as much for these services as they currently do. because a lot of the pipe that went in, a lot of the plants that went in, went in with very sizable portions of federal grant money, mechanisms that are no longer in place. narrator: without grants, utilities often turn to the bond market to pay for large capital improvements. and although the loan is often spread of a 20- to 30-year period, user rates will increase to pay down the debt. woman: until a community accepts the willingness to pay for what they use, they won't have that money that they need to replace this failing infrastructure and improve their treatment plants so they can meet regulations and population growth. elected officials have to have enormous courage
to be able to raise rates, to go out for bond levies, to deal with a situation that most people don't even see. it flushed yesterday, it flushed 10 years ago, what's the problem? narrator: atlanta is a rapidly growing urban area. its primary source of drinking water is the chattahoochee river, which also provides water to many downstream communities. but its infrastructure is dangerously old, without outdated facilities and combined sewer overflows polluting the watershed. the city faces strict consent decrees and lawsuits, along with a severe lack of funding. man: when i started working for the city of atlanta in the late '70s, we were approaching that point in time where a lot was going to be needed, in terms of rehabilitation and upkeep. most of the very large pipes were at least 80 years old.
we had needs that were identified in the '50s and in the '60s and in the '70s that were deferred. woman: we are urging that we all try to find a way to overcome the obstacles and limitations that might exist. woman: when i was running for office, i met someone who knew mayor hartsfield, who, in the late 1960s, said, "i don't know who the next mayor will be, "but i know they'll have to fix the water and sewer infrastructure." woman: the city had chronic sewage overflows into the chattahoochee and its tributaries. fecal coliform bacteria levels were in the millions of colonies per hundred milliliter, which was a significant public health threat. and this had been occurring for decades. but neither the federal epa nor the epd back in the '90s were willing to take action under the clean water act to make the city fix its plumbing. so in 1994, we started upper chattahoochee river keeper. we filed a clean water act lawsuit.
in 1997, we won. and so for the past decade, the city has embarked on a program to clean up the river. now, with 1,800 miles of sewer system, three sewage plants and combined sewer overflows, it took a number of years to figure out what would be the solution. we are facing a crisis in infrastructure. bethea: a huge change came about when mayor shirley franklin became the mayor of atlanta. we're having to choose how to spend our money. i named myself "the sewer mayor," and i wear that title very proudly, because, without wastewater infrastructure and drinking water infrastructure, the economy will stop. we did a major outreach. we trained an outreach team, who went to every community meeting, to educate people on how bad the crisis was. not only did i tell people that we'd have to raise rates, i told them we'd have to tear up the city to repair this infrastructure. man: you can't simply say,
"i won't use any water, it's too expensive." we have about 25% of our population that's at or below the poverty line, so you have to look at rate structures that are tiered so the people can pay their bills. franklin: we would love to have something like 75% federal money. we do get some federal aid and we are thankful, but on the other hand, we're paying for this primarily with new rates. we have increased our rates to among the highest in america. but not nearly as much as if we hadn't passed a one-cent sales tax dedicated to water and sewer infrastructure. hunter: that sales tax counts for about a third of the revenue of the department right now. franklin: we got 75% of the voters to agree to tax themselves so that their children and their children's children could have clean water because we're investing in it now. hunter: there were no alternatives. the infrastructure was in dire straits. a lot of people didn't want to believe
it had to be done, but it had to be done. what came out of those lawsuits by the upper chattahoochee river keeper were two consent decrees, focused on overflows. the intent is, city of atlanta, you need to keep the flows in the pipe. narrator: with the help of the funding the city raised, atlanta has been implementing an asset management plan that evaluates and addresses their infrastructure issues. hunter: it's a continuum. at one end, you have your regular maintenance that you do every day on the system, and at the other end, long-term planning so that every year we're repairing, replacing the right things, and we don't have to do it all at once, which is, quite frankly, what we're having to do in atlanta now. griffin: we have thousands of assets that we have to keep track of. we have to always know their condition and continuously plan for their refurbishment at the right time. one of the things we're required to do under the consent decree
is inspect our system. we're trying to find where there's leaks. so we blow smoke into the sewer pipe. man: we're locating places where water from the surface to the ground is running into the sewer pipe and overloading the system. hunter: we have 1,600 miles of sewer. we are evaluating every linear foot of that system. is the pipe leaking; are you having a lot of infiltration or inflow? thornell: every time it rains, water will come down, go into the pipe, enter the sewer system. it's very easy to repair this defect and get all that water out of the system. griffin: with our closed-circuit tv inspection, we record cracks, holes, pipes that are partially collapsed. hunter: we literally will have a digital video of every foot of our sewer that in the future, we can go back and do a comparison. what's changed? is it degrading? what do we need to do? at what rate is this happening? griffin: to really improve these systems,
you need to deploy the latest technology. woman: the pipe bursting process is designed to replace an old pipe without digging an entire trench. the old pipe has cracks and displaced joints and openings in it. we try to stop, not only infiltration, but exfiltration, where sewage would actually leak out of the pipe. the head is larger, so it breaks away the old pipe and allows the new pipe to come in behind it. griffin: we are saving about 67% of the cost of actually digging old pipe up. clyne: it's less invasive than an open-cut process, where you would open the whole trench up and replace the pipe. it's called "trenchless" technology, so... that's as good as it gets. griffin: we don't have to dig up everyone's yard, and we refurbish that pipe at a much-reduced cost.
another technique, the cured-in-place lining. it's equivalent to putting a large sock through the existing sewer. we form a new pipe inside the old pipe, and therefore we seal up all of the defects that allow rainwater to come in. hunter: we repair about 730 leaks a month in our system. griffin: the improvements that we've made will make the environment better. we had approximately 1,000 overflows occur in 1999. today, we've reduced overflows by 45% to 50%. and it's going to continue to improve as we go forward with the rehabilitation program that's required under the consent decree. narrator: an important piece of the program is the construction of an 8-mile-long storage tank that will significantly decrease combined sewer overflows.
man: right now, we're at the bottom of the rockdale construction shaft. we're 310 feet below grade, deep under atlanta in hard rock. in the downtown area of atlanta, the sewer system and the stormwater system are combined and there are overflows during storm events, and so the purpose of this system is to relieve that flow, take it into the tunnel, transport it to a brand-new treatment plant, clean up the chattahoochee river. narrator: instead of the combined sewage overflowing into the river, it will flow into this tunnel that acts as a storage tank. the water will then slowly empty into the new plant for treatment before it's released back into the river. man: the system in total is about 8 1/2 miles, 27 feet in diameter. most of the time it will be dry. the only time it will fill is when the sewer system is overwhelmed by the storm. it is a massive project. our budget was $210 million.
we've worked about a million and a half man-hours. hunter: it is an incredible amount of work. our capital program right now is $3.9 billion. over a period of less than 10 years. franklin: so it's very expensive. the bottom line is, we, as atlantans, as georgians, don't have a choice to protect the river. we need to leave it better than we found it, and it's really been a political advantage for me, not a disadvantage. people laugh about me being the sewer mayor, but they remember what i'm doing. griffin: we want people to understand, when they see one of our work crews out working on the mains, that that work is necessary in order for them to have good clean drinking water or to have a good, functioning wastewater system. franklin: you don't put a roof on the house one time.
you don't fix the plumbing one time, any more than i get my hair done one time. if we don't continue to invest for the next 20 years, we'll find ourselves back at the same point that we were in the late '90s. if we don't protect water, we will be without water. we will be without industry, we will be without jobs, we will be without a healthy economy, and our people will be sick. so we don't really have a choice. we're going to find out why that's important. it's a question of, who's going to pay, how much you're going to be willing to pay in order to ensure that your children live the kind of life that we as americans have promised them. woman: and what we're going to do is get a marble to travel through your pipe. child: keep still! keep still! woman: aw, there's a clog in the drain. oh, there it is. [ laughing ]
narrator: in the 19th century, foresighted leadership and innovative engineering established drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure that supported the growth of the nation. through much of the 20th century, we continued to invest, to ensure our public health, safety, and economy. but now, in the 21st century, we face the need to revisit our commitment to the buried assets and infrastructure that for so long have provided for our way of life. johnson: infrastructure across this country needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed now. hunter: what we need is responsible stewardship. we just can't turn a blind eye and say that they're going to continue to work for another 50 or 100 years. franklin: we can't be embarrassed to tell our congresspeople that we want something different. kelly: it's going to take state officials, it's going to take federal assistance, it's going to take all of us to get this united states
back where it belongs. we're not there yet, but we can be there. grumbles: water is america's greatest liquid asset. and citizens and governments all need to be reminded of that from time to time. woman: what can individuals do to make a difference? allbee: we need to accept the responsibility that future generations need to be able to rely on those assets to have the same quality of life that we have. oberstar: all the water there ever was or ever will be is here on earth today and it's our responsibility now, at this time, in this generation, to protect it. that must be our legacy to the future.